The Heart of Wetona (1919) Norma Talmadge Film Corporation/Select Pictures Corporation. Produced by Joseph Schenck. Directed by Sidney A. Franklin. Scenario by Mary Murillo. Camera by David Abel. Cast: Norma Talmadge, Fred Huntley, Thomas Meighan, Gladden James, Fred Turner, Princess Uwane Yea, Charles Edler, White Eagle, Black Wolf, Black Lizard. 6 reels. Copies of this film are available at The Library of Congress (35 mm., some deterioration), George Eastman House (35 mm.), The Cinema Museum in London (35 mm.), and the UCLA Film and Television Archives (16 mm. and videocassette viewing copy)
There is a wealth of detail and direction in the latest Norma Talmadge screen vehicle, "The Heart of Wetona," a version of George Scarborough's play of the same name, the scenario for which was prepared by Mary Murillo, directed by Sidney A. Franklin, photography by David Abel. It is faithfully Western, and the Indian reservation atmosphere is depicted in a manner to give it a sense of reality. A number of long-range photographic "shots" are to be commended
These modern casting directors have developed a genius for selecting types to play the different parts in high-class photoplays. When a well chosen cast is on exhibition in a legitimate play the critics spread themselves in ecstatic praise of the rare acumen displayed. Time and time again a legitimate producer makes an egregious error in casting a play, but one seldom sees such a mistake in the higher grade of film features.
This is especially called to mind by the casting of the principal and minor parts in support of Miss Talmadge. There is Thomas Meighan as the manly Government agent, Gladden James as Tony, the cowardly youth, who defiles the Indian maiden, and so on. The man who played Quannah, the Indian chief, and whose name could not be caught in the flashing of the cast at the opening, was as faithful a delineator of a redskin chieftain as can be imagined. The cowboys are not of the idealized stage variety, with fancy "chaps" and the usual theatric regalia. They are just human looking "punchers" without being caricatures.
As to the story, it is hardly a star part for Miss Talmadge. To be sure she is the pivotal character about which the plot revolves, but the role is purely a receptive one, and she is called upon to do little but pose as the bearer of the heavy burdens.
The story is that of a half-breed Indian girl who had been deceived under promise of marriage by a white youth. Her father is chief of the Blackfoot tribe, and when she is selected as the "Vestal Virgin" for native festivities she cannot drink from the sacred cup, declaring to her father that she had been defiled. The chief declares the man must die. Wetona rushes off to the Government agent, Hardin, to tell him to warn her lover. Her father follows, sees her with Hardin, and believes he is the culprit. He tells Hardin he must marry Wetona on penalty of death. Hardin does so, and later, when the chief finds out his mistake, he shoots the villain as he is trying to escape, leaving Hardin and Wetona to live happily thereafter.
One of the most impressive scenes is the departure of the chief after things are straightened out. He mounts his steed, and his braves fall in behind in double file, riding off for a solemnly majestic fadeout. Right her is where the picture should end, but he director found it necessary to cut back to a conventional "clinch."
There is one grave error in the photoplay. It is explained at the opening that Wetona had been educated in a seminary, yet throughout the story the subtitles had her talking in the stilted manner in which Indians speak English and with a partial dialect.
Wetona is not the best kind of a Norma Talmadge role, as she is at her best when animated, and the part calls for very little of this kind of screen acting. However, she made the most of her limited opportunities.
"The Rivoli is offering an Indian program this week. The orchestra begins it with an overture made up of selections from Victor Herbert's "Natoma" and is followed by "The Land of the Great Spirit," a Prizma color picture showing Indian life in the Blackfoot country. Next Red Eagle, said to be a Blackfoot chief, appears in native costume and, standing upon an eminence in a realistic scene, impressively utters an "incantation to Manitou." Then comes the photoplay, "The Heart of Wetona," with Norma Talmadge in the leading role, Wetona, a half-breed Indian girl, daughter of Quannah, Chief of his tribe.
The story, with numerous touches and details to enhance it, is presented in a natural setting, and, despite several serious shortcomings, succeeds in being effective in many scenes. Credit for considerable of the success should go to Sydney A. Franklin, the director, who, however, must also be held responsible for many cluttering sub-titles and for the incongruity of those especially which represent Wetona as speaking the broken English of an ignorant Indian, although she had been educated at an Eastern seminary, where she had obviously acquired the white woman's arts of dress and manner.
Only commendation can be expressed for the work of the players in the cast. Miss Talmadge, always decidedly attractive, has talent, as well as looks, and makes the character of Wetona as understandable and appealing as its theatrical limits permit.
Gladden James, as Anthony Wells, gives one of the most intelligible screen performances seen here recently. He is a pantomimist of unusual ability. And Fred Huntley, as the Indian Chief, is as good in his part.
"The Heart of Wetona"
Norma Talmadge Reveals Deep Feeling in Fine Production of Select Picture.
Reviewed by Edward Weitzel.
ONCE more a combination of story, direction and acting in which all three elements are intelligently and artistically handled points the way to successful picture production. An error in one division of the work serves to emphasize the excellence of the other qualities of "The Heart of Wetona," a screen version of George Scarborough's stage play, which ahs been put into scenario form by Mary Murillo and directed by Sydney A. Franklin.
Norma Talmadge has the title role. The picture is in six reels. Condensed into five thousand feet it would be direct and gain greatly in dramatic forces. The finish is retarded to the disadvantage of the story. Aside from this fault, which is easily remedied, "The Heart of Wetona" takes rank with the best of the Norma Talmadge Select productions.
As for the star's share of the labor, none of her impersonations has revealed deeper feeling or a better understanding of the art of acting. There is never the slightest doubt in the mind of the spectator as to what Norma Talmadge is trying to convey. And on the other hand, she never oversteps the demands of the situation. Her acting is always clear and concise, and dominated by a fine sincerity. As Wetona, the child of an Indian chief and his white wife, she is picturesque and beautifully human, and the story of her adventure before she finds her real mate will be followed with compassionate interest.
Put briefly, the plot of "The Heart of Wetona" relates how an Indian girl who has been educated and reared as an American girl gives her heart to a white man only to be betrayed. When she is chosen as the vestal virgin of her tribe, she reveals her secret, and the chief, her father, tries to force her to tell the name of the guilty man. Wetona will not speak, and the chief is led to believe that Hardin, an Indian agent, is the one. To save the girl, Hardin offers to marry her. The rest of the story is devoted to showing how Wetona learned the true character of her betrayer and the worth of Hardin, who has always loved her.
The production was made principally in the West, and the locations are all beautiful and in perfect harmony. The acting of Fred Huntley as Quannah, Thomas Meighan as Hardin and Gladden James as Anthony Wells give these characters their full measure of interpretive skill. The fine photography is due to the ability of David Abel.
"THE HEART OF WETONA"
Joseph M. Schenck Presents Norma Talmadge in David Belasco's Great Stage Success by George Scarborough
|Quannah, Chief of the Comanches||Fred Huntley|
|Hardin, and Indian Agent||Thomas Meighan|
|Anthony Wells||Gladden James|
|Pastor David Wells||Fred Turner|
|Nauma||Princess Urane Yea|
|Comanche Jack||Charles Edler|
Directed by Sydney A. Franklin
The Story: Wetona is a half Indian girl who has been wronged by the man she loves. She refuses to tell the name of her lover, and Hardin, the agent in charge of the reservation, is accused of being Wetona's lover. Hardin is in love with Wetona, but has kept it a secret because he has never been given any encouragement. To protect Wetona, Hardin marries her. She is ousted from the tribe. Wetona later learns that she loves Hardin and not Tony, so, with her father's forgiveness and a real man's love, she is made happy.
Feature Norma Talmadge as Wetona and Thomas Meighan as Hardin, an Indiana [sic] agent.
Program and Advertising Phrases: Norma Talmadge, Star of Her Most Delightful Contribution to the Screen. Inspiring Story of Love Enthroned in Indian Girl's Heart.
What Happened When She Fell in Love With Her Husband
Gripping Drama Forces Vital Problem into Illuminating View
A Play of Deep Tragedy and Happiness Gained Under Great Stress
Advertising Angles: IN addition to playing up Miss Talmadge give emphasis to the fact that this is a screen version of a Belasco production. You can give your lobby an Indian touch, with a tepee and camp fire. This will be much less trouble than a tent. In your newspaper work play up the Indian angle, working with the cuts of Miss Talmadge in costume. Contrast this with other types she has played. Get them interested in this angle.
Advertising Aids: Two one-sheets, two three-sheets, one six-sheet, one 24 sheet, Window cards, 13 x 21. Heralds. Lobby display photographs, 8x10, 11x14, 22x28. Slides. Cuts, two one-column, two two column, one three-column, one one-half-column cut of star, and one one-column and one two-column cuts of star.
Released in December by Select.
Last revised, December 23, 2008